House vote could allow septic tank waste to continue spreading on land
The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends pumping out septic tanks every three to five years, as reflected on this sign at Brian's Septic Service in Tallahassee. Photo by Bruce Ritchie

4-9-15 Brian's septic tank sign

A bill that would allow septic tank maintenance businesses to continue spreading waste on fields for two more years is teed up for approval in the House on Thursday.

In 2010, the Legislature voted to ban the land application of septic tank waste beginning in 2016 as part of a bill that supporters said would protect springs and waterways from nutrient pollution.

Septic tank waste haulers and representatives of rural counties now say the ban could cause the price of septic tank pump-outs to skyrocket.

HB 687 originally would have repealed the ban but faced opposition from environmental groups. The Department of Environmental Protection says it is conducting a study of the effects of the practice, and the bill has been amended to delay the ban for two years rather than repeal it.

“We feel like there is nothing wrong with doing it (spreading waste) in a practical manner,” Rep. Brad Drake, a Republican from Eucheeanna who is sponsor of the bill, told the House on Tuesday. “Obviously you wouldn’t want to do anything in a reckless manner.”

Florida has about 2.6 million septic tanks statewide, according to the Florida Department of Health.

About 100,000 septic tanks are pumped out each year resulting in 100 million gallons of waste. There are 92 regulated sites that receive the waste, including farms that use the waste as fertilizer, DOH said.

Without access to those sites, haulers would have to drive farther to wastewater treatment plants to dump their waste — if the plants will accept it. That could cause the $200 cost of a pump-out to double.

Environmental groups disagree with Drake and septic tank waste haulers who say the practice is highly regulated. They say waste can run off of farm fields into waterways or seep into groundwater that flows to springs.

But those groups dropped their opposition to the bill after Drake agreed to delay the ban rather than repeal it. Environmentalists also support the study by the Department of Environmental Protection.

But some House Democrats on Wednesday, when the bill was on second reading, questioned why the delay was necessary and why work wasn’t undertaken earlier after the ban was enacted in 2010.

Rep. Mark Pafford, the House Democratic leader from West Palm Beach, said the bill would “move the goalpost” on a deadline that has been clearly established for nearly five years.

“It’s a filthy product,” Pafford said.

“You are spraying it basically on acres of land relying on water to bring it to springs and underground aquifers,” he said. “We know what it does in South Florida in terms of pollution. It is simply something that shouldn’t be occurring.”

The Senate version of the bill, SB 648, has two more committee stops.

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee. 

Bruce Ritchie


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